TORONTO - The Toronto Red Knights are coming off a strong 6-4 showing and, according to coach Eric Meek, three things have to happen in order for them to improve on that in 2012.
"The first thing we have to do is stay healthy," he said. "Second, our O-line has to improve day-by-day. Third we have to be able to tackle.
"Those are the things we have to do, and I have faith in our team that we can do them."
Meek says the health portion of that equation is something every other team Toronto's size has to deal with. He feels on his team it will be most important for his line.
"Most Division VI teams are in the same boat as we are," he said. "With only around 30 kids, injuries can destroy your team.
"It's almost like Division VI is survival of the fittest. If you can stay healthy, you are fortunate. It's not easy to coach Division VI. At Weir, we had around 60 kids. It's a challenge to coach Division VI, and I enjoy that challenge.
"It's vital we stay healthy on the line. We have more smaller, quick kids than linemen on this team."
The line will be led by a pair of returning starters at the guard positions in senior Jake Haynes and junior Billy Solomon.
"Those two kids have to be leaders," Meek said. "They are the only returners on the line."
Holding down the center position will be senior Zach Price. The tackle slots look to be held down by juniors Jordan Allen and Josh Roche with senior Tyler Andrews fighting for a spot there as well.
Others vying to add depth to the Red Knights' offensive line are sophomores Mitch Reese, Joey Walters, Jerod Sutherin, and Alec Haynes, along with freshmen Hayden Saner and Sean Spence.
The line is learning a new blocking scheme, but Meek feels this shouldn't be a problem.
"The zone blocking scheme we'll be using is possibly easier than what we did past two years," Meek said. "It is something that is more 1-on-1."
The reason for that new blocking scheme may be a surprise to people familiar with Toronto under Meek.
"We will spread it out this year," he said. "We can't line up in double tight and pound the ball up the middle with our personnel this year. The past two seasons we've had to do that, but not now.
"Hopefully our offense this season will help show I'm not as stubborn as people think I am."
Meek says the team he is fielding in 2012 is different than any team he's fielded during his coaching career.
"For the first time in my career, I have a team that is small and fast," he said. "Not only do we have speed, but we have young speed.
"Only (wide receivers) Joey Chadwick and Kyle White are senior skill players. We want to play smart, create seams by spreading it out, and utilize our speed."
The frontrunners to handle the signal calling duties in this new spread offense are as young as they come. Freshman Blaze Glenn is tabbed as the starter with classmate Blaine Rawson slotted as his backup.
Meek does have some experience behind them if needed.
"Blaze doesn't carry himself like a freshman," Meek said. "He seems to have a lot of poise so we feel confident in his ability to run the offense. We have another freshman in Blaine Rawson with a lot of potential.
"Joey Chadwick is an option here as well. He played some quarterback at the end of last season so we feel confident in bringing him in if necessary. (Sophomore) Nate Stewart can also play here so we have some depth at quarterback.
"All four have picked up the system."
Junior Chez Glenn, Blaze's brother who transferred from Steubenville, will hold down the tailback position. Sophomore Charles Ross III will back him up and see significant carries as well. Also fighting for touches are junior Tyler Miller along with freshmen Cody King and Chantz Cassella.
The past two seasons, receivers tended to be an overlooked part of the Toronto offense as they typically were used as blockers. This is something Meek feels will change this season.
"I think in this offense you would see more passes on first down than in the past," Meek said. "I think we have the personnel to throw the ball this year. The playbook will best fit our personnel."
Chadwick and White return as starters at receiver. Looking to join the rotation at receiver are junior Justice Ross, Stewart along with freshmen Donnie Starkey, Brandon Mitchell, and Joe Jordan.
Junior Derick Lawrence and freshman Drew Lowery are fighting to claim the starting tight end spot with freshmen Hank Clegg and Connor Williamson also looking for playing time.
Defensively the Red Knights, who run a 4-4, have to find a way to offset their lack of size, especially when larger opponents are across the field.
"Our biggest question on defense is if we can tackle," Meek said. "We are going to put our best people in the right position and have to hope to not get run over by bigger teams."
Jake Haynes and Allen are set as the starters at defensive tackle. Alec Haynes, Sutherin, and Spence are all vying for time as well.
Roche and Price look to start at defensive end with Lawrence fighting to claim a spot. Williamson and Walters are also pushing to see action.
Solomon, Miller, and Charles Ross III will all see time at inside linebacker with King and Reese battling to get in the mix as well.
The rotation at outside linebacker will be White and Stewart with Lowery looking to get playing time also. Clegg and Saner hope to see time as well.
Chez Glenn will start at safety with his brother Blaze Glenn manning a corner slot along with returning starter Chadwick and his six interceptions from a year ago at the other corner.
Others hoping to play in the secondary are Starkey, Mitchell, Rawson, Ross, Jordan, and Cassella.
Toronto opens its season Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Wellsville.